recommended reading

NIST as Enforcer? House Committee Passes Bill to Expand Agency's Responsibilities

A NIST facility in Colorado.

A NIST facility in Colorado. // Jeff Zehnder/Shutterstock.com

Republicans on the House Science Committee forwarded legislation Wednesday that would vastly increase the operational responsibilities of the government’s cybersecurity standards agency and task that body with auditing other federal agencies’ cyber protections.

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework, Assessment and Auditing Act passed the committee, 19-14, over the objection of most Democrats who argued the bill was outside the expertise of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which views its role as advisory and does not customarily conduct audits.

The bill would direct NIST to complete an initial assessment of federal agencies’ cyber preparedness within six months and a full audit of their cyber protections within two years with priority given to the most at-risk agencies.

» Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

The bill would also direct the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy to produce annual reports on the adoption of NIST’s 2014 Cybersecurity Framework, both in government and in the private sector, and direct NIST to create more extensive adoption measurements.

Those requirements jibe with some elements of a draft cybersecurity executive order that would mandate that agencies adopt the NIST framework. It would conflict, however, with NIST’s general policy that the framework should be an advisory document for agencies and companies rather than a strict set of rules.  

The NIST mandate is included in the most recent leaked draft of President Donald Trump’s executive order, which has not been formally introduced.

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, acknowledged the bill would vastly expand NIST’s responsibilities during a conversation with reporters after the markup but said that expansion is necessary to ensure agencies’ cyber protections.

“There’s a temptation, I realize, with a lot of government agencies not to want additional responsibility,” he said. “In this case, they are the most qualified, they have the expertise and, in the end, I think that they will want to help prevent cyberattacks.”

The committee’s ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, however, argued the bill would transfer to NIST responsibilities that should belong to the Office of Management and Budget and the Homeland Security Department, which is primarily responsible for civilian government’s operational cybersecurity.

“NIST is not an auditing agency,” she said in an opening statement. “They have no such history, experience or capacity.”

Smith has spoken to possible Senate sponsors and to Republican leadership about the bill, he told reporters, but could not predict when it might reach the House floor or be introduced in the upper chamber.

He predicted the bill would “enjoy widespread member and public support” and “help stop cybersecurity attacks.”

Johnson also criticized the bill for not providing additional funding for the audits, noting that Federal Information Security Management Act audits can cost in the millions of dollars. She called the bill a “massive underfunded mandate levied on an agency that is already overtasked.”

FISMA audits are currently the major annual cyber reviews agencies’ undergo and are conducted by agency inspectors general. 

Threatwatch Alert

Software vulnerability

Malware Has a New Hiding Place: Subtitles

See threatwatch report

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.